In previous posts, we have talked about having faith in Christ or that we are justified by grace through faith. But what does it mean to have faith? Who or what do we have faith in? To have faith in something or someone is to have trust in them. When you have faith in someone, you trust that he is who he says he is and that he will do what he says he will do. So to have faith in God is to believe that He is who He says He is and that He will do what He says He will do. You can have faith in things too, like that water will come out of a sink faucet when you turn it on or that your clothes will be there when you open your closet.
What Does it Mean to Have Faith in God?
Is it just that we believe in Him and Jesus? This is a starting place, but not the full picture. To have faith in God is to believe in the power of what Jesus did on the cross. Because Jesus is God, He is perfect and has God’s perfect righteousness. He is the only person who ever lived who could be called fully righteous and sinless. When Jesus died on the cross, he took all the penalty (the punishment that we deserved) of our sin on himself. On the cross, Jesus took our “sinful” label on Himself and gave us His “righteous” label.
To have faith in Jesus is to have trust in what He did on the cross. It means that we do not boast or brag about what we have done, our good deeds, because we know that those are not what make us righteous. We know that Jesus is the only one who can change our labels from “sinful” to “righteous,” and therefore we have faith in him. We know that we can trust Jesus and have faith in Him because He is the Son of God, and God has always shown that we can trust Him.
A Deeper Look at Biblical Faith
The author of Hebrews defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen (Hebrews 11:1). The Greek word translated as “assurance” here can also be translated as “confidence.” The author of Hebrews here is establishing that faith is not blind trust or a vague hope grounded in imaginary, wishful thinking. Rather Biblical faith is rooted in an eternal God who is sovereign, perfect, and eternally trustworthy. Biblical faith is confidence (full and guaranteed trust) in the God of Creation who has revealed Himself to us through the person of Jesus Christ and through His Word, and whose promises have been revealed and proven true from generation to generation.
Faith is both belief in God and the belief that He will do what He says He will do and that He is who He says He is. Faith means knowing what is true, accepting this truth, and then making a personal commitment to that truth. Faith is more than just a feeling though. Its roots are in more than just how we perceive things or controlled solely on our emotions. “The power of faith is contained not in our being swept up by a rapturous feeling, nor in the accuracy of our ability to describe it, but rather by the beauty and glory of the One in whom our faith is placed. ”
Faith ultimately is a gift from God. In Ephesians 2:8-9 Paul writes, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not of yourself, but it is a gift from God, not a result of works so that no one can boast.” The Westminster Confession of Faith on Saving Faith (Chapter XIV, Part 1) reads :
The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word, by which also, and by the administration of the sacraments, and prayer, it is increased and strengthened.
Not only is faith a gift from God, but this is just the first of many gifts that the Lord gives to us. God empowers us to believe in Him and in the saving power of Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross (see bolded section above).
Faith through Confidence in Christ
In Paul’s writings, faith is trust in the salvation that has already occurred (John 1:12; 1 Corinthians 1:30; Philippians 3:19). Christ has already secured salvation for us through his life, death, and resurrection. He has already defeated death, taking upon himself the penalty for sin that we deserve, and has given us access to salvation, reconciliation, and adoption. The confidence that we have in what Christ has done on the cross leads to trust and obedience (Romans 16:26). C.S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity :
[To have Faith in Christ] means, of course, trying to do all that He says. There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus if you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him….wanting to act in a certain way because a first faint gleam of Heaven is already inside you.
The primary act of saving faith though is accepting the promises of justification, sanctification, and ultimately glorification that God has given to us freely through Christ (Romans 3:22-26; 1 Corinthians 15:14). Faith gives us the freedom to let go of our attempts at self-righteousness, allowing us to rest peacefully in the arms of our Savior, being confidently assured of our salvation; not because of anything within us but because of the One in whom we place our faith (Romans 1:16; Galatians 2:16-20). The second paragraph of the Westminster Confession (Chapter XIV.2) reads:
By this faith, a Christian believes to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God Himself speaking therein; and acts differently upon that which each particular passage thereof contains; yielding obedience to the commands, trembling at the threatenings, and embracing the promises of God for this life, and that which is to come. But the principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace.
Christ as the Author and Perfecter of Our Faith
The Westminster Confession concludes:
This faith is different in degrees, weak or strong; may often and many ways assailed, and weakened, but gets the victory: growing up in many to the attainment of a full assurance, through Christ, who is both the author and finisher of our faith.
Jesus is both the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2). “The radical implication of these words is that our faith is given by Jesus Christ (the author), rests upon Him as the object of our faith, and also relies upon Him to see that we persevere until the end (the perfecter). ” Faith then is not focused primarily on what we do or how we feel or even our perception of reality, but on Christ Himself (Ephesians 3:11-13). Hendrikus Berkhof writes, “Faith is related primarily to a person to whom man may entrust himself, because in him salvation in the sense of reconciliation and of adoption as children of God has already become a reality. ”
There are times when our faith seems so small and weak that there is no way that it will be sustainable. But the Lord in His grace and mercy uses even the weakest of faiths. In Matthew 17:20 Jesus tells the disciples “For truly I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” Faith, no matter how small or big, weak or strong, is living and growing and is beautiful in the sight of God, because the author and perfecter of our faith is not our ability to believe but Christ himself.
There will also be times that our faith is challenged or that we don’t fully believe the promises of God. The Bible does not make the claims that those with faith will always know the will of God or that their faith can predict God’s actions. For a beautiful picture of how the Lord uses faith in the midst of doubt, look no further than the father of the boy with the unclean spirit that Jesus heals in Mark 9:14-29. In the time of great need the man cries out “I believe Lord. Help my unbelief!” Though this man’s faith was incomplete, he believed in the power of Christ to heal his son. He did not claim to have perfect faith nor use his faith as a bartering tool to convince Jesus to help him, but rather placed his trust in the one who always does what is right and good.
Biblical Faith: Trusting God’s Provision
Biblical faith is not about confidence in our faith but rather it is confidence in Christ alone. When we start to place our confidence in the strength of our faith, we have lost sight of what true Biblical faith is. The quality of your faith is not dependent upon the outcome of a particular situation nor should we evaluate the quality of our faith based on our ability to dismiss any negative thoughts (1 Corinthians 2:5).
There are those people who might have you believe that if you just have enough faith, if you just believe in God enough, He will bless you beyond your wildest imagination. They tell you that your best life now is possible on this side of heaven if only you just have enough faith. The implications of such teachings are shocking and harrowing to consider. The least of these is that we can become proud of and confident in our faith, boasting in our own efforts rather than God’s, believing that we can control God by our faith. At worst we can come to question our faith, possibly even our salvation, if we are not being blessed with riches or good health.
If things do not go as we think they should go, based on this view of faith, either we are not doing our job, or God is not doing His job. “By linking the evidence or quality of faith to easy times and happy endings, we set ourselves up for doubt and heartache because difficulty invades every life, including that of the faithful (Matthew 6:34; John 17:15). ” When we put our trust in our ability to believe God, we have made our efforts the object of our faith rather than God himself. The Old Testament story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abendego told in Daniel 3 comes to mind here. When faced with either worshipping an idol or facing death in a fiery furnace, the three faithful men chose the furnace, saying, “Even if God does not deliver us, we will serve only Him.” Their confidence was not in the assurance that God would do what they thought was right, but in the fact that they had faith that God would do what was right. Out of this assurance of God’s goodness, they trusted and obeyed him. “Biblical faith calls for each of us to acknowledge that God’s provision is sufficient, loving, and good even if it falls short of or contradicts our immediate desires. ”
In the times of heartache and disappointment, anguish and despair, unknowns and uncertainties, how can we be confident in God’s love and care for us? We only have to look to the cross to have assurance of the love that the Lord has for us. There was suffering for sure, but the suffering had a purpose. The suffering was not for a lack of faith of Jesus, but its purpose was so great and loving and powerful that it changed our eternity as a result. Focus on the cross allows us to know the depth of God’s love for us and our faith finds its true focus.
Download the free Ephesians 2:8 Coloring Page to help your children understand the meaning of faith and check out the rest of Volume 12: Letters from Paul to learn more.